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Monday 1 February 2021

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New TUSC report: could councils implement Labour's 2019 pledges?

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) All-Britain steering committee has launched a new report examining what policy pledges that were made in Labour's Manifesto for the 2019 general election could be implemented today by the 120 or so councils across Britain that are under Labour control.

The report, available at https://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/434.pdf, goes through in detail what was pledged by Labour in 2019 and what councils have the legal powers to implement now - not after a general election, or after new legislation is passed, but immediately, today. If, that is, there were councillors in our town halls prepared to fight.

And that is certainly one thing the Covid crisis has revealed - how the vast wealth that's there in what is still the fifth or sixth richest economy in the world can be drawn upon to serve public needs when sufficient pressure is applied.

A government of U-turns

Since the start of the pandemic the government of Boris Johnson - despite being based on Margaret Thatcher's 'the free market rules' ideology - has made U-turn after U-turn against the background of growing anger and public outcry.

So many things ridiculed before as impossible or not realistic have been enacted, even if incompletely. At the start of the spring lockdown the government in effect nationalised the railways and other forms of transport to keep the system going. Over the course of one weekend councils were instructed to provide accommodation for all those living on the streets.

The founding policies of TUSC included the call for massive increases in funding "for quality public services" organised "under democratic public ownership and control". The Johnson government's measures have certainly not been of this character, with private contractors siphoning off a hefty slice of public money for their own profit. Meanwhile, homelessness is rising again and private companies are still embedded in the transport system.

But nonetheless the measures have demonstrated that when under pressure even a government of the rich can be forced into making huge concessions in the interests of ordinary people.

And the scale of the intervention cannot be doubted. There has been the biggest ever increase in public expenditure outside of wartime.

Labour's 2019 Manifesto

The December 2019 general election saw the publication of the most radical Labour manifesto since 1983, under the heading It's Time For Real Change. While still limited in many areas it gave a glimpse of what policies are possible. It was accompanied by a costings document, Funding Real Change, or 'the grey book'.

The initial yearly cost of additional resource spending for the entirety of Labour's 2019 Manifesto totalled £82.9 billion. There was a further proposal for a £150 billion social transformation fund, to be spent over five years, including £75 billion to help build 150,000 new homes each year and replacing, upgrading and expanding schools, hospitals, and care homes.

At the time of the general election the Tories and their media friends ridiculed this as unrealistic and unaffordable. Yet eleven months later, as recorded in the November 2020 spending review, £283.9 billion had been spent by the government to tackle Covid-19 to that point.

It is a fact: Johnson and Rishi Sunak's public spending has already far exceeded that proposed by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell!

Can it be financed? Yes. Even the Financial Times was forced to concede in early December that "introducing a one-off UK wealth tax of five per cent on net assets above £500,000 would raise more than £260 billion for the country's coronavirus-ravaged public finances".

The money is there - but what is required is a fight to get it spent on democratically controlled public services for the post-Covid challenges to come.

The role councils could play

While the Tories won the 2019 general election it is a fact that 10.26 million people voted Labour, only the second time it had polled over ten million votes since 2001 (2017 being the other time, also under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership).

In other words, millions of people were prepared to back substantial increases in public spending even before the Covid crisis showed how realisable it is to do so. Why can't that support be re-mobilised now - with Labour-led councils in the frontline?

Labour leads over 120 councils, with a combined spending power greater than the state budgets of 16 EU countries. The 2019 Manifesto pledges - still not officially repudiated as Labour policy by new leader Keir Starmer - included many policies that would radically improve people's lives that local councils have the legal powers to implement now.

This TUSC briefing lists some of those policies, and the relevant national costings from the grey book. The point of this is to show what could be carried out by Labour-led councils now, using their reserves and borrowing powers to temporarily finance them, while launching a mass campaign locally and nationally - building the pressure - for funding from central government.

How councils could use their powers to temporarily maintain a 'balanced budget' while fighting for proper resources from the government has been explained in previous TUSC documents, including Preparing a No Cuts People's Budget, available from the TUSC website at http://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/355.pdf. But what is most needed is the will to fight.

What is clear, confirmed by the Covid crisis, is that the question is not, 'Is the money there?' - but how can a campaign be won for it to be spent on the policies and public services we need. This new briefing document from TUSC is a contribution to that debate.